Management used to be about building a machine.
Split the work into smaller parts, assign those parts to individuals who specialize quickly, and then track progress. The value of these people is defined through the prism of the machine they are a part of. They might be referred to as resources, much like a CPU, memory or storage space in a computer is a resource.
What machines are great for is doing the same work over and over again. They take a while to get created, but once that’s done, they justify the investment by mass-producing things quickly. However, when the work changes, a machine needs to be reprogrammed or replaced.
In the past, these changes used to be rare. But things have changed. Now they happen all the time.
We live in a world where the economy is unpredictable and the companies need to adapt constantly to stay relevant. Establishing strict rules in this setting would do more harm than good.
In addition, the environment is so complex that no single person has enough knowledge to design a system that will work for everybody.
So what can managers do? One solution is to work towards creating self-managing and self-organizing teams, comprised of people who see beyond their fragment of work, who are engaged in the work they’re doing, who observe their environment and reflect, rather than mindlessly go through their emails and todo lists.
How to get from here to there?
Foster a culture that rewards thinking. Yes, execution is important, but mindless execution is neither engaging nor effective.
I think this quote by Alfred A. Montapert says it best:
Do not confuse motion and progress. A rocking horse keeps moving but does not make any progress.